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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, is encouraging member countries that have not yet joined the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility to do so.

This, she said, in order to ensure that all states and territories across the Americas are able to access doses of vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) upon approval by the WHO.

The Facility is designed to accelerate equitable access by countries globally to appropriate, safe and efficacious vaccines.

Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Tuesday (August 25), Dr. Etienne disclosed some 40 regional countries and territories have, to date, submitted written communication indicating their interest in joining COVAX.

She said the Facility, in tandem with PAHO’s Revolving Fund, will offer member countries access to a basket of 10 to 15 vaccines “at reasonable prices”.

“We see the COVAX Facility as the best option to achieve this. [It] aims to deliver two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021 and guarantee fair and equitable access to all participating countries,” Dr. Etienne said.

This, the PAHO Director added, will reduce the risk to individual countries currently in negotiation with a view to entering into prepayment arrangements for one specific vaccine or may be so inclined.

She further stated that COVAX arrangement guarantees access for 20 per cent of the population of participating countries to any successful vaccine within the basket.

This includes health and social workers, adults over 65 years of age, and persons with chronic conditions who are regarded as the most vulnerable groups to develop the severe form of COVID-19.

“We believe that this is particularly helpful for countries with small populations… low-income countries or even middle-income countries.

This will allow us to have a much better chance of equitable access if we work together,” she added.

Dr. Etienne advised that there are currently more than 150 vaccines under development, of which 26 are “promising”, adding that five are in phase two or three of clinical trials.

While emphasising that not all of the prospective vaccines will be safe and effective, the PAHO Director expressed the hope that “a few will be”.

Against this background, Dr. Etienne said global mechanisms such as the COVAX Facility are critical in helping to identify the more likely vaccines that will be successful, based on transparent, scientific criteria, “and establish the necessary processes to ensure sufficient manufacturing, a fair price and equitable access [by all countries]”.

She underscored that “no single vaccine, as of now, is guaranteed to succeed”, adding that “this is the real risk [to] countries that are currently in negotiation and entering into prepayments for one specific vaccine”.

“So, we are encouraging our member states to join the COVAX Facility, which will enable countries to have early access to the vaccines.

We are working to ensure that a future COVID-19 vaccine can be available to all that need it, as soon as possible,” Dr. Etienne added.

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